By Sarah Mac Donald - 20 July, 2015
One of the signs of the times is the fact that excessive drinking and other addictions are causing “so much hurt and destruction in many Irish homes and families” the Primate of All Ireland has said.
In his homily to mark the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association’s annual pilgrimage to Knock, Archbishop Eamon Martin affirmed their charism, highlighting that their founder, Fr James Cullen in 1898, had wanted them to be ‘pioneers’ in leading the way from the slavery of addiction towards the freedom of sobriety.
“I want to affirm the heroic self-sacrifice and offering that you and thousands of others in the Association have been making for almost one hundred and twenty years,” the Archbishop stated.
He recalled a recent meeting with a man in his mid-forties who told him that a few months ago he took the Pioneer pledge on behalf of his son who is an alcoholic.
The father of the young man explained that he wanted his son to know he was with him in his struggle and he was not on his own.
“He went on to tell me that he used to enjoy a drink himself: ‘For me,’ he said, ‘this is just a little sacrifice for God; but for my son it’s a life or death issue.’”
Dr Martin said the Fr Cullen’s ‘secret’ was to encourage even those people who did not have a problem with drink to make a generous self-offering on behalf of those who could not control their addiction.
While Fr Cullen had no illusions about the damage that excessive drinking was doing in his time, the Archbishop said that “sadly, that remains the case today”.
The Primate of All Ireland underlined that according to Alcohol Action Ireland, half of all adults who drink in Ireland are “harmful high risk drinkers” and 15% of our 18-24 year olds who drink are already dependent.
Alcohol is a factor in half of the suicides in Ireland and more people die each day from alcohol-related problems than on our roads.
Increasingly more women and young people are presenting for help with alcohol dependency.
“I imagine there are few Irish families that have not been impacted in some way by the problems of addiction, whether it be to alcohol, tablets or other drugs, online gambling, pornography or some other dependent behaviour,” he commented.
With so many people are in need and so many people searching for meaning and hope in their lives and so many seem lost or astray, the church leader ask, “What can we do to help them?”
He asked, “How can we read these signs of our times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel? What is it in our culture that has left us so prone to addictive behaviours? Why are so many people today being caught up in dependency on alcohol, drugs or some other compulsion?”
“Could it be that we are trying to live our lives without a true openness to God and his loving mercy and as a result we end up like sheep without a shepherd? Have our lives become so empty of meaning or true purpose, so lacking in true love or intimacy that we feel the need to escape into the false comfort of addictive behaviours?”
Archbishop Martin said that perhaps all of us can identify behaviours in our personal lives which we know deep down are not good for us – like overuse of alcohol, drugs or the internet, an unhealthy relationship, obsession with work, the need to gamble or risk, compulsive consumerism, or a fixation with someone or something which dominates our lives to the exclusion of those who are most dear to us.
In preparation for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, he noted that Pope Francis has been speaking about the need for “missionaries of mercy” in the world.
Last Advent he said “there is a need for people who are witnesses of the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, which shakes up those who are resigned, revives the discouraged, (and) ignites the fire of hope.”
Archbishop Martin said Venerable Matt Talbot was such a “missionary of mercy”, and so also should be every member of the Pioneer Association.
He concluded by thanking God for the many missionaries of mercy around the country who unselfishly reach out to help those who are addicted by offering prayer, providing counselling and therapy, recovery programmes and pathways of mentoring and support for addicts and their families.